A constitutional rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome, has condemned Ebonyi State Governor Dave Umahi’s attack on journalists, saying the governor has no legal, constitutional or moral powers to pronounce “fatwa” against the correspondents of the Sun and Vanguard Newspapers in the ordinary course of their duties.
Ozekhome cited section 22 of the 1999 constitution which states that “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability and the government to the people.”
He said that the press is one of the indispensable building blocks of any true democracy, noting that the law is clear and unambiguous on it.
Ozekhome faulted Umahi’s pronouncement of “ban for life” on Saturday, 18th April 2020, and ordered the arrest of Chijioke Agwu, correspondent of the Sun Newspaper for reporting statistics duly released by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), a story titled, “Anxiety, Fear, As Lassa Fever Wreaks Havoc In Ebonyi”.
Ozekhome also faulted the governor for saying “let’s leave the courts alone” and suggesting “let’s resort to brute force and self-help”.
He said that Governor Umahi cannot decide which journalist comes to his state to reside or work.
Ozekhome cited Section 41 of the 1999 constitution which provides that “every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom.
He cited a near similar case which played out in the NPN government of Alhaji Aliyu Shehu Usman Shagari, where through the Minister of Internal Affairs, Alhaji Maitama Sule, Shugaba Abdulrahman Darman (1920-2010) was deported to Chad on January 24, 1980, on the claim that he was a Chadian, in a politically motivated move because Darman, a charismatic politician, belonged to the rival GNPP led by Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim.
He said that by Governor Umahi threatening the “deportation” of Nigerian journalists from his state for allegedly writing unfavourable reports about his government, he was repeating history
Ozekhome advised that governor to withdraw his threat immediately and allow Agwu and Okutu to perform their legitimate duties.